For CEOs, Prioritizing Self-Care Starts With a Recovery Mindset

Most people think of recovery in relation to the physical body, where you sustain an injury and must endure a long road back to good health. Others might imagine muscle recovery after exercise or perhaps overcoming addiction or substance abuse. Though these definitions of recovery are true in the strictest sense of the term, we should broaden our understanding. In fact, people undergo incremental recovery each day as a way of maintaining health.
Unfortunately, it often falls by the wayside. Take the body, for example: It’s in a constant state of manufacturing energy. As you read this, your body is doing just that, replenishing and rebuilding in an effort to recover. Sleep, diet, exercise, work-life balance, and other behaviors can either support or undermine your daily recovery. If you don’t give the body time to rebuild, you start to recede — which isn’t sustainable over the long term.
This is especially true when it comes to CEOs and other company leaders, many of whom face an unbelievable amount of stress nearly every day. Research shows that more than 64% of executives “struggle with work-related stress” — a number that’s around 50% higher than the U.S.’s general population. This makes self-care all the more important to leaders’ daily routines.

Burnout isn't necessary

Burnout is one of the likeliest reasons we’re seeing an increase in death rates among working-age adults. We simply don’t put enough focus on recovery and make personal choices that negatively affect us. Not that we should place blame or that circumstances don’t get in the way, but a lack of self-care can lead to what some experts call “deaths of despair.”

Our bodies are being stressed in new ways. Economic expectations, job loss, social media, and now a pandemic are stressors that make it difficult to focus on the self. Eventually, all those pressures cause burnout, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. In turn, this potentially contributes to higher mortality rates.

As I’ve grown older, I can attest to feeling the effects of my diet, exercise, and sleep patterns. If I skip a meal, my ability to focus and my attitude toward work changes. When I don’t get enough sleep, I’m pretty much destroyed the next day. The body can endure only so much without recovery, and it’s up to you to make time for it.

Getting recovery right

Recovery is a state of mind. It involves proactively engaging with yourself, realizing what you need to trek your personal Antarctica, and being honest about what’s necessary to prepare to make that daily journey. Needs will certainly vary, but the following are great places to start:

  1. Monitor your habits to cultivate mindfulness. As a means of tracking habits or measuring progress toward a goal (by using an app, for instance), data can be beneficial for self-care. It can solidify a habit or build up an almost instinctual response to external stressors, enhancing your recovery in turn. However, data-driven tools can also insist on regular updates, leaving you feeling overscheduled and beholden to them. Given enough time, this can create a sense of fatigue that isn’t conducive to recovery. Your end goal should be using data to build an awareness of what your body, mind, and soul need each day to be at your best. I use a WHOOP monitoring device, for instance: I log my sleep through its app, and it measures heart-rate variability as an indicator of fitness and recovery. It’s particularly accurate with time asleep and time awake, and it also measures resting pulse and breaths per minute while sleeping.
  2. Pause throughout the day. In a world where you’re told to schedule everything, how do you create true awareness and mindfulness around your recovery needs? Consider taking a “pause” at various times during the day. Before getting out of bed, take a minute or two to check in with yourself. It’ll help center you in the present moment — not what’s waiting for you that day. Do the same at work by consciously slowing down and taking a few deep breaths. Pay close attention to air moving in and out of your body to shift your awareness from the external to the internal. Let the calm sink in, and then return to your tasks.
  3. Rethink your relationship with sleep. Many people treat sleep as an inconvenience, preferring to do something more productive with that time. It’s almost as if a lack of sleep has become a badge of honor.
But are you bringing out your best self if you never take time to recharge? Rework your bedtime routine: Research suggests that consistent yoga practice could actually curb insomnia, so start by incorporating just 15 to 20 minutes of yoga before bedtime that emphasizes resting poses and exhalation. Whatever helps you prioritize sleep — and your recovery in turn — is a step in the right direction.

The goal with recovery is to become self-reliant and self-aware enough to identify your needs and then do what’s necessary to meet them. Recovery is fully within your grasp. It’s all about changing your mindset to make it a priority.

This article was originally published on CEOWorld on October 22, 2020.